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29.06.2008 Feature Article

Public Health in Ghana: Write to the Health Minister Quashigah.

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Do we have the equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration in Ghana? If we do, has it neglected its role in society and like many institutions of the state has become a failure? Sometime ago there was the Ghana Standards Board which existed among other things to certify all products as safe before being allowed unto to the market. All food products and body products, and all other products made in Ghana all bore the standard board logo as haven been certified as safe and haven met good production standards. Is the Ghana Standards Board still in existence?

On a recent visit to Ghana I saw all kinds of products on the market, ranging from food products, drinks, medicine, and body products, some locally made others brought into the country from all kinds of places imaginable on the planet Earth. The efficacy of some of these products is in serious doubt and so are its safety and production standards. Many of them have no labels on them, and the active ingredients that make up the product and in what amounts are not listed anywhere on the product label. Because we live in a lawless country, anybody at all can stand up and bring something into the country for sale, especially food products which have a direct effect on the public health of the country. Nobody checks to see if these products meet acceptable health standards. The fact that there has been no major food scares in the country does not mean we can take public safety for granted. Just how much do you personally care about what you eat? Do you follow any diet? Do you think food labeling is important for public health?

In the name of public health and disease prevention, we should start lobbying for compulsory food and nutrition labeling on most food products in easy to read and easy to understand way. The Standards Board must be revived and strengthened to make it work more effectively. Parliament should pass a law to make it obligatory for all importers and manufacturers of food and drinks, medicine, and body products to include on the label all the ingredients both desirable and less desirable that make up the product and in what quantity before offering them for sale. When you peer at the fine print while trying to shop conscientiously, wouldn't you appreciate knowing that the No Fat condiment you are about to buy is loaded with extra sugar Right now some food products that are labeled do not breathe a word about the less desirable elements lurking in the food. The Standard Board should be equipped to conduct tests to make sure that all manufacturers and importers abide by this regulation. As of now the situation is so chaotic that it seriously poses a public health hazard. Some products on the market could be outright harmful to our health and others may have serious long term side effects.

It goes without saying that it is the health of the nation that is at stake and somebody must act swiftly to prevent this health emergency. The Ministry of health must set up a surveillance network and early warning and response system as found within the EU to upgrade their preparedness for and response to outbreaks of infectious diseases and other public health threats.

In all developed countries, there is a widely shared sense of responsibility to ensure that the health of their citizens are not put at risk. Human capital is the most important asset of every nation and it is the duty of the Ministry of Health to promote the health of the people of Ghana through the prevention and control of diseases and injury. Public health in Ghana today is beset with a number of problems and threatened by many factors and from many sources but there appears to be little or no concern shown by the appropriate departments or ministries of state.
Take the case of medical garbage disposal in Accra and many other cities in Ghana for example. Medical garbage calls for a very careful disposal since it could be the source of many infections and a potential carrier of germs. But what do we see? One often finds such garbage thrown into road sides or overflowing from road side garbage containers. Garbage dumps are found located well within densely populated residential areas and are hardly emptied and maintained on timely basis. Apart from the foul smell, the dumps spread bacteria into their surroundings and becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos. And we have a whole ministry for the beautification of the national capital. It seems to me that our Ministers, 88 or so of them, plus the President and his vice, and all MP's are more concerned about their SUV's , giving themselves national honours than the health of you and me. I see a great need, I see desperate poverty, I see a barrage of problems, health, education, economic, environment etc, etc, but I don't see the government, I don't see the ruling party, I don't see our politicians, I don't see people rolling up their sleeves to work.

It appears to me that our Public Health departments come into play only when there is an outbreak of some disease. But we need to look at the long term effect of all the canned foods. With the influx of many goods to Ghana, we need to be aware that some might even have expired. Some might also be of questionable standard. Some foods might predispose our people to diabetes and cancer. We need to be vigilant because the long term effect of some these foods will greatly burden our already weak health system and even completely sink it. In fact there are too many suspect and dubious items being offered for sale in Ghana whose long term health risks is like a time bomb waiting to go "boom". We need people with vision to plan ahead and solve this problem before it engulfs all of us. We need citizens' action, a campaign to help change the current situation. Parliament itself needs to be educated on the importance of food labeling so it can enact suitable laws to enforce it. If you care about what you eat start making some noise about lack of labels on foods, drinks, and other body products to make a change. You can write to the Minister of Health about this issue of national importance.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah,
Tokyo, JAPAN

The author is a policy strategist advisor and a public policy expert based in Tokyo, Japan. He is also a senior social and political analyst. He has written extensively on political, social, and economic issues in Ghana, Africa, and in the developing world in general

Ben Ofosu-Appiah
Ben Ofosu-Appiah, © 2008

The author has 133 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: BenOfosuAppiah

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